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part three: gamification

Office workers peeking out of cubiclesJupiterimages

Swimsuits are sexy. Scheduling, not so much. But that's something Anthony Rinella hopes to change.

Mr. Rinella is the founder of Toronto-based Algrin Technologies Inc. His company has developed an online scheduling application called SkedX, which allows employees to manage shifts, vacations, meetings and more in a central, collaborative online hub.

And like many others, he's using game mechanics in his software to improve employee engagement and participation at work.

On its own, dealing with dates and times isn't terribly exciting. But by gamifying that experience, Mr. Rinella hopes he can make "employees feel more comfortable with the scheduling process."

In one example, a retail employee hoping to trade shifts would send a message through SkedX to his or her co-workers. The first person to respond might receive points that, in theory, could later be put towards vacation time or company perks.

Other activities, such as punctual attendance or frequent communication with other employees could also be rewarded, suggests Mr. Rinella.

"Our goal is that the second employee walks into work, almost everything can be a game with points and currencies."

Amplify and accentuate

If there's one thing that SkedX does right, it's take existing employee habits and activities and use game mechanics to improve upon tasks that are already being done.

In fact, that's an approach that Daniel Debow, co-founder and co-CEO of Toronto-based Rypple Inc., has taken to heart.

In a previous job, Mr. Debow found that employees were especially frustrated with the lack of feedback they were receiving at work. Some complained that performance reviews felt outdated, and ill-fitting for modern business.

"What we saw was that the world of work had changed a lot in the last fifty years," says Mr. Debow. "It's now much more collaborative, much more social, and real time."

Thus, Rypple offers clients a number of apps that can be used to offer employees different types of feedback and review. One allows managers to coach employees and offer tips and advice. The most popular app, however, relies on badges, status and reputation, which can be used to "congratulate" other employees, and are displayed publicly for others to compare.

But unlike SkedX, Rypple's goal is not to turn everything into a game. The fun and frivolous is important, says Mr. Debow, but it's not the driving force behind his company's efforts. Instead, the aim is to make certain activities - namely, feedback and engagement - more meaningful.

Even Facebook, perhaps the most prominent catalyst behind the social and casual gaming craze, has followed suit. The social networking giant has been testing a new Rypple product called Loops that allows employees to form teams, set goals and offer feedback in real-time.

"It takes a combination of good science, good design and a good understanding of the end user to build something that's better for everyone," he says.

"Nobody has to use it, but boy, do we find a lot of people want to."

Employees want to play

Toronto-based Kobo Inc. is one of Rypple's most recent customers. In fact, the service was made available to employees just last week.

And according to Jennifer Ricci, vice president of employee experience, Rypple's philosophy fits particularly well with Kobo's own.

"It's important that we be able to reward a team after each big win, because twice a year isn't enough."

For example, there's a Headhunter badge for employees who identify a potential recruit. Or the Jerry Maguire badge for employees whose suggestion leads to a new hire. All are displayed on public profiles for coworkers to compare - a far cry from the dry, didactic language found on performance reviews of old.

In fact, with a service such as Rypple, successful results can be recognized almost immediately, with rewards, status and reputation offering an incentive to further improve an employee's performance and engage with the company.

"You can force an employee to do stuff, but they're not necessarily going to be happy and engaged," says Mr. Debow.

"But no one is forced to play a game. And yet, people invest enormous amounts of their time, energy and passion."

Other Stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website.